February 28, 2007

Guest Piece:
Early buzz about FGC Gathering

What follows below is printed with permission from Friends General Conference (FGC). I'm excited to know that FGC has thought to generate some buzz about its upcoming Gathering by sending emails like this one to Friends who no doubt will be viewing the Advance Program by the end of March, either online or by hard copy!

For the record, many of this Gathering's activities will occur in a new student center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The student center is intentionally constructed with the incorporation of a number of elements for environmental sustainability. —Liz
Dear Friends,

What a gift it is for us to serve Friends by preparing for the 2007 FGC Gathering of Friends. We invite you to come and share the fruits of our labor this summer, June 30 to July 7, in River Falls, WI near Minneapolis/St. Paul.

This story from a recent Gathering Committee meeting illustrates how the Committee is being well led in our work together:
I walked into the middle of the worship subcommittee to find everyone in the room in tears. For me, tears are a sign that Spirit is at work, and I soon confirmed that this was true. These Friends had arrived at the meeting feeling stuck, and with prayerful discernment had just reached unity about an important decision. Soon, they were speaking about the tenderness and power of the last hour they had spent together. “This is why I am a Quaker,’ said one Friend. Listening to them, I teared up, too.
When the Gathering Committee is grounded and Spirit-led in its work, then surely that radiates into everyone’s experience at the Gathering. The theme “…but who is my neighbor?” has been powerfully working on the Gathering already. Jesus Scholar Marcus Borg will be speaking on “What It’s All About: The Great Commandment and our Deepest Yearnings” and the other plenary speakers will also be speaking to the question “…but who is my neighbor?” The theme provides rich opportunities for Junior Gathering programs which this year will be focused around diversity, community and justice.

And this summer, as always, we are offering a wonderful variety of workshops for adults and high schoolers: some highly experiential, others more intellectual, many looking at areas of conflict and forgiveness, others exploring spiritual power and strength, and all offering opportunities to strengthen our faith.

In March, Friends and Meetings will receive print versions of the Advance Program. And beginning March 15, advance materials about the Gathering will be available online at www.fgcquaker.org/gathering.

Both mail-in and online registration begins March 26 -- we hope that you will register online, if you are able. Meanwhile, information about fees and financial aid is already available. Now is a good time to ask your Meeting [and your yearly meeting] about scholarships they might provide.

Who do you know that would thrive at the Gathering? Please drop them a note or email today, encouraging them to attend. If they enter their name and email address at the bottom of the Gathering website, we [FGC] will notify them when registration begins.

In anticipation,

Cynthia Bartoo and Rich & Marian Van Dellen
Clerks, 2007 Gathering Committee

February 24, 2007

What's on my nightstand

Since it seems like I'm too busy working on Gathering-related work, I haven't had a chance to consider writing anything substantive for The Good Raised Up. But there is plenty of good Quaker blog reading out there as it is.

Speaking of reading, here's what is currently on my nightstand--both what I've been reading and what I'm looking forward to reading.

Reading materials for Quakerism 101

Fellow Quaker blogger Paul L has been leading a group of about 30 Friends through 7 sessions of Quakerism 101. Since I have not had the opportunity to attend other Q101 groups that Paul has led in the past, I decided to participate in this one. Half of the reason is because of Paul himself and his earnestness to talk about, live into, and share with others the principles of Quakerism; the other half is because of the "non-traditional" reading list he created for this Q101, which includes:
Lloyd Lee Wilsons' Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order

Tom Gates' pamphlet Members One of Another

Michael Birkel's Silence and Witness

Thomas Hamm's The Quakers in America

Samuel Caldwell's essay The Inward Light: How Quakerism Unites Universalism and Christianity.
I'm sure I'm leaving off a handful of other things we read, in full or in part. It's been worth it just to have reading assignments each week from these great books and well known Friends.

UPDATE, Third Month 2007: Paul L has now written about his recent experience teaching Quakerism 101 (scroll down about halfway in his post).

Current reading

Over the past month, I have begun making my way through two things:
Marcus Borg's popular Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time
Daniel Seeger's 1991 pamphlet put out by Quaker Universalist Fellowship, called The Boundaries of Our Faith.
I wanted to read something by Marcus Borg because he is scheduled to be one of the evening plenary speakers this summer at FGC's 2007 Gathering. I figure this is as good a time as any to read something by the guy, and I feel as though I've come far enough in my own journey with Christian Friends that I might do okay dealing with a whole book about Jesus.

Daniel Seeger's pamphlet apparently grew out of some turbulent times in the late 1980s/early 1990s within New York Yearly Meeting in response to Friends' pursuit of practicing "Goddess spirituality," Paganism, etc. I'm hoping that his pamphlet can shed some light on recent and current concerns within the Religious Society of Friends about topics such as Quaker sweatlodges, nontheism among Friends, &c.

In addition to these Quaker writings, I want to spend some "quality time" with a brief statement that came out of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and its Ministry & Oversight Gathering held in 2006, about the threads that make up the fabric of Conservative Friends. It's got lots to chew on, given how short a piece it is, and the document can be downloaded as a pdf file if you're interested.

Looking ahead

Once I cross off Marcus Borg and Daniel Seeger, I hope to dig into a few shorter things:

One thing is something I just came across on the internet--I can't remember how I found it: A Brief Synopsis of the Principles and Testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends. But read the fine print: Adopted by the yearly meetings of New England, Canada, Ohio, Western, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina in 1912. Last weekend I happen to have met the Friend who posted this umpteen-page synopsis on the internet, and he is a Friend from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), so I've got some incentive to take a look at this document.

Then there's my dear friend Michael Wajda who just had a pamphlet printed through Pendle Hill, Expectant Listening: Finding God's Thread of Guidance.

That pamphlet will be in addition to another pamphlet I discovered by Thomas Hamm, Opening the Quaker Time Capsule. Just in case I get bored or bogged down, I can always find another diversion.

(You can see why Quaker Books of FGC is always happy to hear from me.)


February 13, 2007

Gregg's meme:
10 Reasons Why I'm Quaker

I'm borrowing the now-familiar theme from Gregg.

...Actually, every time I revisit this post, I keep changing the order of my list. So in my own mind, I picture a circle that has been sliced into a number of pie pieces. Each item has its own weight and size in helping me identify as a Friend at any given moment. No item is higher up or more important than any other, and the "largest" pieces at one time might be less important at another.

Lucky me! I found an interesting animated image of this sort of fluid pie chart that captures what I'm wanting to describe.

Here are my ever-changing pieces of the Quaker pie, then:

Number 10: Quakerism is a really good fit for me; it brings me fulfillment.

Since 1993 when I began worshipping regularly with Friends, I have felt like I am becoming the person that I have been intended to be. I feel well used, over and over again. I feel like I make a small but significant difference in the scope of things and in the lives of people around me. I believe being Quaker has had a lot to do with that good feeling, and I sense it is ultimately the bottom line of what keeps me Quaker. So consider this item Number 1 as well as Number 10.

Number 9: Belief in the potential we each have; calling each other out, to live into our full measure of Light; having and believing in the capacity to be transformed.

I know I haven't always been the most gentle of persons, and I have had trouble expressing my concerns over time in a loving way. The fact that over the years, Friends have been able to see beyond my actions and have been able to hear something beneath my words, has been priceless to me. Friends have helped call me out rather than turn away from me, and in turn I have softened and become more patient, more compassionate.

Number 8: Intentional stripping away of empty rituals and over-the-top ceremonies.

There's something about getting down to the essence of what we're after when we enter into worship that appeals to me. I also think of open worship as "the great leveler," where facility with language and expensive clothes just don't matter. That said, I acknowledge that outward ritual and ceremony have certainly connected me to any number of people and groups over the years, through traditional weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and personal growth retreats. But these outward forms have eventually become disconnected from their original intentions and from their communities, and so I end up with what I've always had anyway: the ability to engage in worship and connect with the Divine whenever I quiet myself enough so that me and the Inward Teacher can have a real nice meet-up.

Number 7: Striving to be in integrity with God, with one's own personal integrity, and with one's desire to be honest.

When I was in elementary school, walking home one day in one of my frequent sullen moods, I remember thinking to myself that I was sullen because I had answered a classmate's question (something like, "Do you like my new shoes?") but was chided when I answered it honestly ("No."). I remember thinking to myself, "Why do I feel like I'm the only one in the world who gives an honest answer to a question she's been asked? ...I can't be the only one in the whole world who is that honest." ...So imagine my utter inward joy when I discovered that Quakers have a practice of truthtelling and integrity! Not quite as ecstatic as Fox's "leap for joy," but pretty close, in my book. And on top of that, I find I experience a sort of deep, ineffable satisfaction when I feel a choice I have made or an action I have taken is aligned with what it is that God truly wants in that moment, whether it's offering an honest answer or taking a stand against some unfairness that's occurred right in front of me.

Number 6: Personal and direct relationship with God.

I know: this reason is rather cliche, but it's still a huge part of why I'm Quaker! Somehow I have often felt that my connection to God was extremely private, and that the rabbi and religious school teachers I had weren't talking about the same God I was experiencing--or desperately wanted to experience anyway. So removing those intermediaries somehow gave me the freedom to listen more closely to what the Spirit was wanting me to know. And I understood--wordlessly and at a deep level--that it really was important that I said what I meant and that I meant what I said. After all, God has some really high expectations that I want to live up to, and--to paraphrase a dear fFriend of mine--I know I am loved even when I can do no more to make God love me and I know I am loved even when I can do no less to make God love me.

Number 5: Shared belief in something Divine that can guide us.

This is related to my Number 6 comment, about having a direct relationship with God. I am enamored by the idea, by the belief, and by the practice that because God is speaking to us and dwells among us, if we stop and listen together, we can understand some of what God is wanting us to know. And that understanding can bring us fulfillment, happiness, and transformation. Sometimes we end up where we had no idea we could possibly go, which to me is one of the tests of God's leading: if we end up where we predicted, it may be that our own ego and personal desire have not totally been laid aside.

Number 4: Continuing revelation and its place among the corporate body.

God is not done showing us all that we need to know about the nature of God and the nature of Love. Somehow, the concept of continuing revelation releases me from working so hard to "figure it all out," especially when decisions have to be made around a complex or delicate matter. The longer I can live into the Unknown and hang out in limbo-land--as uncomfortable as that is--the more likely it is that I will understand how the pieces fit together and what I'm supposed to do next. Somehow, continuing revelation and the search as a community for Way to open has been creating a fondness in my heart for the corporate nature of who we are as Friends.

Number 3: Quakers care about treating people not just well or fairly, but lovingly. Love is the first motion.

Treating people fairly can become an intellectual exercise or a sociopolitical one. I find that I am attracted to how Friends as a group wish to connote loving care as well as fairness, even during the most difficult of times. It is not enough to "speak truth to power." We must also speak truth to power with love, which is not always so easy. And it's not always so easy to take the time to discern just what "speaking truth to power in love" will look like, sound like, feel like, or be like. But we must strive to do just that if we are to be about healing and not about creating more rifts in the fabric of our humanity. Quakers as a group seem to hold one another's feet to the fire when it comes to living into the tension between the urge to act and the desire to wait until the motion of Love is felt deep within.

Number 2: Inclusion of, consideration for, and weight given to even the lone minority voice.

Before I encountered Quaker business practices, I was always frustrated and hurt by the idea of "majority rule." Somehow Roberts Rules of Order and casting votes seemed to put more weight on the vote and its outcome than on the persons who were concerned about what was being voted on. Roberts Rules and yes-no votes are clearly about one group winning and getting their way and the other group losing and going home with nothing. A win-lose paradigm like that cannot heal racial divisions, class divisions, religious rifts, or family break-ups. A win-lose paradigm cannot heal the planet. But as Friends, by listening for the smallest kernel of Truth even in a single minority voice, we might be turned towards considering something we would have otherwise overlooked. And by giving consideration for that minority voice, we express care for the one who has risked being faithful in the face of unspoken pressure to "just go along with the rest of us."

Number 1: Support for being faithful to God's leadings.

There are many people in my life who have been mystified by my desire to follow my own compulsions of what I feel is the way to go. I moved to Milwaukee because it felt like the right thing to do at the time and because Way opened to allow me to do it--and that move eventually brought me to Quaker meeting. I traveled to a quaterly gathering of Quakers who sing for the joy and pleasure of singing and fellowship because it felt like what I was supposed to do--and that trip eventually brought me to my beloved partner. I brought a spiritual concern forward to a small committee of Friends because it felt like it was time to do so--and that concern has been affirmed and has brought me into this Quaker blogosphere along with other opportunities to connect with Friends along the theological continuum. Mostly what I get a kick out of is that when we are faithful to the little leadings, we are gaining practice for the future so that we will be faithful to the big leadings. And being faithful to God's instruction is what brings me peace of mind and joy of heart. See Number 10 again!


Gregg's Top Ten reasons for being Quaker
Gregg's Top Ten things that drive him crazy
Robin M's Top Ten things that drive her crazy
Daniel's six reasons for being Quaker
Tania's post, Why Quakerism?
an earlier post on this blog, I should have known I was a Quaker
a later post on this blog, Membership and identity
Daniel Wilcox's post on what he sees as key truths in Quakerism
Yet one more post on this blog, Why I'm still a Quaker

February 8, 2007

Friends Journal essay:
On the significance of benches

This article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Friends Journal. Copyright © 2007 Friends Publishing Corporation; reprinted with permission. For further information: www.friendsjournal.org.
In the final worship at a recent session of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I found myself reflecting on the keynote presenter’s tender words of gratitude for the benches on which more than a hundred of us sat, aware of the generations of Friends who had sat upon them for decades before us, in waiting worship, seeking to be brought into the arms of the Divine.

During these Iowa sessions, I’d had to submit to sharing a bench with at least three Friends, and often shared the bench with four or even five. I never had a bench to myself for more than a minute, and I could not fidget as readily as I can when I am sitting in a chair. At first I was spiritually claustrophobic—how could I worship with someone sitting so close to me? I wanted more elbow room so I could be alone with my worship! Eventually I made do with the Friends sitting on either side of me and yielded to the reason we were there: to worship together.

The benches were hard, even beneath the hand-sewn foam cushion that ran the length of each, but they provided me with some comfort and a peculiar sense of being connected with the Friends with whom I shared a bench for the hour.

In a covenantal religious society, the Divine, rather than the pressure to conform, instructs us. Among Friends, our gratification delayed, waiting until led to act, unprogrammed time in our day and in our week, faithfulness, being present to one another, and wrestling with issues large and small—all these elements of the Quaker faith community are part of the salve to heal wounds and spiritual deficits we seldom understand.

In the United States, society trumpets the power of the individual and all that we have at our fingertips. I can join the tens of thousands of others in Minneapolis who jump into their cars to go to work, to exercise, or to attend committee meetings. I can come home and flip on the television, prepare my own supper while my partner eats what she wants, and then retire to the computer, read some Quaker weblogs, listen to Mozart while she listens to Michael Franti in another room. With caller ID, I can decide whether or not to talk to my mother, who will likely ask when I spoke with my grandmother last. I can find an issue that irks me, draw up a poster with a few choice words, and attend a rally or vigil. I can speak out because the First Amendment says I can. And I can practice religion in the way I want because the Bill of Rights says I can.

In contrast, Quaker society and tradition calls us away from our individual lives so that we might worship, labor, play, and be nourished in a gathered community. Significant decisions are made through the discernment of the gathered community, not by a privileged and well-paid few; and a decision to take action may be held over from month to month, so that together we may test and season our understandings of how the Light is leading us.

In worship, despite the personal desire to push on, listening and waiting together can amplify the still, small voice in a way that disconnected individuals, tempted by our own freedoms and separated from a corporate body that yearns to move together, might not be able to hear. At times we are compelled to be present not only with other Friends but also with friends and strangers beyond the walls of the meetinghouse, to lift one another—any “other”—up with a tender hand.

I remember a time, on a quiet but busy road during rush hour, when a minivan and a bike scraped each other enough to disrupt traffic. As I drove past, I saw on the roadside the driver and the biker point fingers, trade angry looks, and exchange words. I wanted to pass them by like the drivers did in the oncoming traffic, but I was compelled to stop. I asked if they were all right, and I acknowledged the surprise they each must have felt when they were aware, too late, of each other’s presence in their respective paths.

At first, they looked at me as if I had just walked into their bedroom during an intimate embrace. Eventually, each of them took a big breath, checked for scrapes and bruised egos, shared their phone numbers, and apologized for yelling at each other. They were beginning to express care for one another. When we each got back to our own vehicles and parted ways, I wondered, were we too eager to forget about what had happened so we could return to our independent, insulated lives?

I’ve been keeping a small dry-erase board on my desk, where I write the names of F/friends with whom I wish to keep in touch, or who need a helping hand. At the top is the word I use to organize the list: “Community.” I still must discipline myself to reach out to them and carve out some time to sit or talk with them. I’ve been trained to focus on me, me, me, and I am frustrated and easily lulled by the U.S. anthems of individualism and instant gratification.

It occurs to me that I must apply this same discipline to meeting for worship, since the same isolating forces are at work there, too. In other meetinghouses where I have worshiped, there are more often chairs than benches for worshipers. But during those few days at Iowa Conservative’s midyear meeting, I sank into the Seed and felt the unity of being yoked together on that bench.

Sharing a bench brought home for me the necessity to join other Friends in the act of corporate waiting worship. I hungered to keep to and share in that unspoken agreement. The temptation, though, was to pressure myself to be extra quiet, to be extra un-fidgety, like forcing myself not to think of a pink elephant and then only being able to think of one.

I felt a Life and a Power that seemed to unite Friends at the midyear meeting, and I attribute it to the sense of our having being joined together in our love of the Spirit and in our love of one another. There seemed to be an unspoken, common understanding that our individual freedoms took a back seat to God’s call and to our involvement within the Quaker community. The bench became a symbol of that covenantal yoke for me. Our joy came from being yoked to one another, learning from each other, and sharing in the work of helping a group of individuals be joined together as a faith community.

Is it too easy for us as modern Friends to slip into chairs that can be moved slightly this way or that, in rooms that are large enough to accommodate not just our worshipers but all of our supersized personal space? Is there a discipline we can practice to keep society’s freedoms an arm’s length away and allow ourselves the treasure of knowing one another inside and outside of worship, in that which is Eternal?



2006 Midyear Meeting at IYM(C)

Chairs on Quaker Street

February 1, 2007

A creed by any other name...

Over on One Quaker Take, Timothy has a post about whether Quakers have creeds. He delves a bit into a topic of my own concern, about the in-creeping of American individualism into our meetings and our practices.

This is as good a time as any to reflect on just what is or isn't a creed... which is a close cousin to the question, just what is or isn't a doctrine. I'm not ready to wrap my head or fingers around the question of doctrine, which seems to be a larger construct than a creed, but it seems there is something important about the nature of a creed that I want to explore.

Here is how the American Heritage Dictionary defines "creed":

1. A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith.
2. A system of belief, principles, or opinions.
When I myself consider what a creed is, I come up with a list of other elements. A creed is:
  • Multi-generational; a statement of faith that is used by more than one generation or cohort of users and is shared across generations or cohorts.

  • Taught rather than discovered organically; often acquired through rote learning, especially among newer generations.

  • Often stripped of its original context or isolated from it. This characteristic, coupled with rote learning, creates a form of language known as "frozen." (A country's national anthem is often a good example of frozen language.)

  • Given inappropriate weight, to the extent that members of the faith community may be prematurely "released" from being expected to learn more about their faith tradition if they can present elements of their faith in an articulate but "canned" manner.

  • Can be seen as iconic: a creed itself seems often to be very short but points to a much larger concept or set of beliefs. Outsiders of the faith tradition, or newcomers to it, might mistake the pseudo-creed or creedal statement to be the be-all and end-all of the faith itself.

In short, a creed may be described as
an encapsulated articulated expression of a faith's stereotyped, frozen, or decontextualized foundational element(s).
Examples of possible Quaker statements that come dangerously close to being creeds, even if unintended to be creedal, include:
  • "There is that of God in everyone."

  • "Christ has come to teach his people himself."

  • "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition."

  • "Quakers believe in the Peace Testimony" (or its corollary, "Quakers have and act according to a set of Testimonies").

The thing is, a creedal statement--whether intended as a creed or not--undermines the overall gestalt of the faith from which it emerges, by the very fact that a creed often stands alone, outside of the larger context of the faith's traditions and away from its "gestalt of origin."

The last thing I'll offer here for now is this:
If we disallowed ourselves from using any of the above statements, how would we answer the question, "What is Quakerism and what do Quakers believe?"


Marshall has a comprehensive essay about doctrines, what they are, and how they present themselves within the various branches of Friends.

off-topic but with a section about creeds, by Gerald Rudolph in response to the January 2007 Friends Journal article, Misunderstanding Quaker Faith & Practice.

In response to some of the comments here, Pam reflects a bit more about the Center.